DOT, Partners Join Forces to End Distracted Driving

Dedicated to saving lives, the Hawai`i Department of Transportation, four county police departments and private partners Toyota Hawai`i and DTRIC Insurance are working together on educating all of Hawai`i’s roadway users about the dangers of distracted driving throughout National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving involves anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving. This includes talking on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system, but texting is the most alarming distraction of all.

“Driving requires one’s full attention and any non-driving distraction can lead to dangerous and possibly deadly consequences,” said Jade Butay, Hawaii Department of Transportation Director. “Although sending or reading a text may take your eyes off the road for only five seconds, at 55 mph, it’s been compared to driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.”

NHTSA’s research further shows that an estimated 660,000 drivers are using electronic devices such as cell phones while driving during the day. In 2015, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured nationwide in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted driving. Additionally, teens werereported as the largest age group distracted at the time of fatal crashes.

To expand awareness throughout the state, the Distracted Driving Awareness outreach program is launching social media campaigns on its newly created accounts @DistractedDrivingHI on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The campaigns will target Hawaii driving age students to encourage them to practice good driving habits.

As part of the campaign, high school and university students will be asked to sign the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “One Text or Call Could Wreck It All” Pledge Card, which can be downloaded from our social media sites. Students would then take a selfie with the signed card and post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with their school name and the hashtag #justdrivehawaii. The school with the most posts will win a Drive Aloha Fair event at their school that features HDOT’s virtual reality distracted driving simulator program. The exclusive school fair will be sponsored by DTRIC Insurance.

HDOT’s Drive Aloha Fairs will also be taking place throughout Oahu during the month of April at local shopping centers and on the neighbor islands throughout the summer. The fairs will educate the public on the dangers of distracted driving and other traffic safety issues. Organized in partnership with Toyota Hawaii and DTRIC Insurance, the fairs include a state-of-the-art digital driving simulator that allows drivers of all ages to experience how dangerous it is to operate a vehicle while being distracted. The digital simulator system is the only one of its kind in Hawaii.

“The collective goal of this campaign is to change driver behavior, and that change begins with education. We hope that by experiencing the dangers of distracted driving in a safe, controlled environment, people will think twice about doing it in real life and possibly making a fatal mistake,” said Butay. “You may get a second chance in the simulator exercise, but sadly, that is not the case in real life.”

In addition to their year-round enforcement of Hawaii’s distracted driving law, county police departments will be conducting stepped-up operations during the National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Although locally distracted-driving related incidents are underreported, last year police issued over 17,000 distracted driving citations statewide, which is a grave indication of this pervasive issue. Increased enforcement of distracted driving laws combined with public education have proven to be an effective method to reduce distracted driving and, more importantly, save lives.

Hawaii’s law prohibits the use of mobile electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle, making it illegal for drivers to text or engage in other hand-held uses of mobile electronic devices such as cell phones, mp3 players, personal digital assistants and navigation devices. The law also prohibits drivers from using a hand-held mobile electronic device when stopped at a red light or stop sign. Furthermore, no person under the age of 18 may use a hands-free mobile electronic device while operating a motor vehicle. The fine for violating this law starts at $257. Violations in school zones or construction areas are subject to a higher amount.

“Every roadway user has a role in this effort to put an end to distracted driving,” Butay stressed. “Although many actions are distractions while driving, texting is by far the most dangerous because it combines all three types of distractions – visual by taking your eyes off the road, manual by taking your hands off the wheel and cognitive by taking your mind off the task of driving. We recommend that you turn off your phone or mobile electronic device and put it away in the trunk or glove compartment. No text message is worth risking your life or someone else’s life over.”